Dumping fees brought to forefront in Hubbard County -- some haulers have 'made a fortune off us.'
A showdown could be brewing between private sanitation haulers and Hubbard County.
Pay up or else.
The county board discussed at length Wednesday during a work session meeting how some haulers are taking advantage of Hubbard County's transfer stations' ease of disposal and lack of policing.
Some, in fact, there could be many, are hauling out-of-county waste to Park Rapids or the north transfer station and dumping it for free.
Meanwhile, those haulers have already passed those costs on to their customers, who believe they are the ones paying for the disposal.
"We've got a couple of them that are fairly honest and paid us for some waste and we've got others who've made a fortune off us," said solid waste superintendent Vern Massie.
It's even causing business competition issues for Cass County haulers who won't engage in the illegal conduct and raising issues of fairness for Hubbard County taxpayers: Why should they subsidize private business?
In some cases, board members figured a select number of waste haulers could be pocketing $25,000 to $30,000 annually by stiffing Hubbard County of tipping fees they're avoiding.
And transfer station attendants are walking a fine line trying to question where those loads are coming from.
The response is usually subterfuge, that the waste came from Hubbard County when it didn't, or a complaint to their supervisor if they feel they've been prodded too much.
Commissioners agreed it has to stop.
"I followed a truck from Rogers Point and it set me off," said commissioner Lyle Robinson. "I hate to micromanage but I called the transfer station and said, 'By God when he gets there there's no question but that's out-of-county garbage and he owes us $50.' Well, he wouldn't pay it. He took it home. Then his wife calls in a complaint about how horrible the station attendants are to make him pay."
One possible solution is forcing garbage haulers to divulge a list of their clients and addresses. Robinson said some haulers with purely Cass County clientele have never dumped in their own county.
"Everything has a cost but right is right and wrong is wrong," Robinson said. "It's stealing if in fact they are doing that."
June 1 fees were quietly implemented.
Board members also discussed gas stations that send tires individually to the transfer station to avoid paying for dumping a load of tires.
"Snowbirds bring us a trunk-full of computers" because it's too expensive to dispose of them at their winter residences, recycling manager Rick Zeller told the board.
"No matter how many rules you make someone is going to game the system," board chair Dick Devine said.
Those discussions were a sidelight to the county's 10-year solid waste plan, which is due before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency by late August.
The agency reviews the plan, makes revisions and eventually approves it as a working model for the next decade.
Then it goes back to the board for final approval.
But board members discussed local prices and whether the county is giving its own taxpayers such a good deal, it's tempting for out-of-county residents and businesses to take advantage of it.
"Some counties have lower fees but you pay at the gate," solid waste superintendent Vern Massie told the board. "We're far cheaper when you add it all up."
Hubbard County charges a yearly solid waste fee of $138. It was recently raised over the objections of commissioners Kathy Grell and Robinson, who wanted instead to crack down on the haulers, to make them pay tipping fees for out-of-county waste.
"Some counties you pay $70 to dispose of a fridge," Massie said. "Here our whole assessment is $140."
For that price, Hubbard County residents can dispose of construction debris, tires, some forms of hazardous waste, electronics, computers, recyclables and garbage.
But it's the hours of operation that are causing complaints. Summer residents want to be able to dump their garbage Sunday nights rather than hauling it home, one seasonal resident complained this week.
It would drive operational costs too high to stay open that extra day, Massie told the board.
"We're offering them a very reasonable handling of this," Devine said.
In the 10-year-plan, the county will look at incinerating garbage in either Fosston or Perham. Both facilities have made proposals. The county currently landfills its waste.
"That would totally devastate out recycling program," Robinson noted of the front-end separation the facilities do.
Not necessarily, Massie countered.
In 2016 the contract with Waste Management, Inc. is up. That outfit hauls garbage to a landfill in Gwinner, N.D.
Having two other disposal options is something the county should look into, the board directed Massie to pursue. Competition usually leads to lower prices. Although incineration is generally more expensive, would it offset the cost of hauling waste to North Dakota, Massie asked the board.
Long-term, the recycling facility may need up to $1.5 million in repairs, including $1 million in new equipment, particularly a horizontal baler and a roof over the express lane, according to MPCA guidelines.
The agency has written Hubbard County up the last two visits because of litter blowing around the site.
Eventual plans call for a building on the grounds to hold recyclables.
But Massie said the county should be mindful that "nobody's building any more landfills or incinerators," although existing facilities could be expanded with regulatory approval.
Waste tonnage has leveled off and likely will remain at similar levels unless Park Rapids attracts more heavy industry, Massie said.
The recycling portion of the county's waste stream is a longstanding contract with the Developmental Achievement Center.
DAC director Ed Ranson appeared before the board to defend the center, pointing out the agency employees 100+ developmentally disabled persons.
"The comments I get are almost universally positive," Ranson said.
Although profits fluctuate depending on the market for recyclables, the DAC has only lost money three years in its quarter century of operation, Ranson said.
The DAC helps subsidize the Heartland Express transportation service, performs maintenance on the recycling equipment, cares for the grounds and cuts the grass at the transfer station, Ranson pointed out.
The DAC operates three retail outfits: Bearly Used Thrift Store, the Tin Ceiling and the relatively new Salvage Depot. Bearly Used is "the cash cow" that floats the boat for the other two ventures, Ranson said.
"We were in the right place at the right time," he said of the popular thrift store in downtown Park Rapids.
"We really value the jobs and want to keep working with you," Ranson told the board.